The first few chords of an unexpected live cover can be surreal. Is this really happening? Is your favorite rising buzz band really throwing it back with your favorite old school anthem? When they fail, covers can seem like a cheap way to woo the audience’s favor by bashing their heads against nostalgia. But when they succeed, oh man. OH man. This month, I asked the ATG writing krewe (+ a special guest blogger) to write some words about their favorite indie covers of 80s(ish) songs. Here’s what everyone had to say.
STRFKR – “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun (Cyndi Lauper Cover)”
If the end game of feminism was for young women to party until sunrise and take calls at odd hours of the night while shuffling between an eight-hour workday and their parents’ house, “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” would topple “Imagine” in its cultural influence. So obviously the charm in STRFCKR’s cover is their boyish take on the puff-movie soundtrack staple, right? Incidentally, GJWTHF was not penned by Cyndi Lauper but by some homie named Robert Hazard, a person I know literally one thing about, making the song’s independent gendered insistence seem like it’s missing the point. The triumph of this cover isn’t its straightforward irony or its subversion. It’s the reminder that while young people grow into old people, Young People never change, and their parental disobedience and alarming bedtimes are OK, because they’ve got this.
Honorable Mentions: Nada Surf – “If You Leave (OMD Cover)”; of Montreal – “Rapper’s Delight (Sugar Hill Gang cover)”; Citizens! – “The Best (Tina Turner cover)”
Reel Big Fish – “Take On Me (A-ha Cover)”
Listen, I’m not going to pretend this is a cool choice. I came *this close* to going on the Google and finding some CHVRCHES cover of Madonna or who-the-fuck-ever and I was going to write it up and everyone would give me a cool-kid nod and I could just keep going on about my life.
But you know what? Fuck it. I listened to Reel Big Fish’s cover of “Take on Me” about 24,000 times in 6th grade, it meant more to me than any other cover of an 80s track, and this is MY song, and I don’t care if it isn’t even considered “indie.” Hear that, everybody?! I was a ska fan. OK? I confess it. I am come clean! I STAND BEFORE YOU, OH LORD, AND I AM NO LONGER ASHAMED. I APOLOGIZE FOR MY WICKEDNESS AND MY LYING WAYS. I LOVED THE SKA AND I STILL DO. REEL BIG FISH REEL BIG FISH REEL BIG FISH AMEN AMEN AMEN AMENAMENAMEN.
Honorable Mentions: Gary Jules – “Mad World”; The Arcade Fire – “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”; Bon Iver – “I Can’t Make You Love Me”
Gary Jules – “Mad World (Tears For Fears Cover)”
While this cover of Tears For Fears’ new wave jam undoubtedly stands on its own as a song, with Gary Jules whispered lament slowing down the song to a tempo that feels more natural than the original, this cover is famous for a much larger reason: Donnie Darko. As the soundtrack for the last few minutes of the film, we the audience are subjected to a Bizarro World, gut-wrenching mixed-blessing ending; our hero has sacrificed himself for the greater good, and we’re reminded that it is indeed a mad world.
Donnie Darko was one of the first movies I remember seeing at the “indie” theater in my town, and as its cult status grew, it was one of those movies that helped my newly-rebellious self gauge others’ status when it came to my burgeoning us v. them adolescent mindset; cool kids knew about Donnie Darko, lame kids didn’t. The soundtrack, featuring “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” “Under The Milky Way,” and more great ’80s songs than I can list became an anthem of sorts for that individualistic discovery phase, and “Mad World” was the token morose song to play when it felt like the “them”‘s were outnumbering the “us”‘s.
Honorable Mentions: Goldfinger – “99 Red Balloons”; Limp Bizkit – Faith; Gossip – “Careless Whispers”
Miles Fisher – “This Must Be The Place (Talking Heads Cover)”
I have never loved a song so much or forgotten about one so totally. I just took a late-night Delorean straight back to a sweltering night in Texas in the fall of 2009, driving to Austin with a girl friend and a Route 69 Sonic cup full of vodka slushie and this song on repeat for about two hours as the rainstorm kept us on the wet road for what felt like an eternity, but we were AMPED because this song rules. I think I might have actually oversaturated myself with Miles Fisher, which is almost impossible because I will listen to a song 300 times in a row like a robot – but I really don’t think I’ve once thought about it since that year.
Also, the song is great, but the video is really the one. IT’S SO PERFECT. I have another strong memory from that fall of forcing a guy in London to watch this absolutely phenomenal, deadpan American Psycho riff on YouTube with me, and he was like “I don’t quite get it” in a super British voice and I was like “Bye, we’re never even going to be friends.”
Honorable Mentions: Gnarls Barkley – “Gone Daddy Gone,” which I like better than Violent Femmes!; that Outkast/Depeche Mode mashup of “Personal Jesus” & “The Whole World”
CHVRCHES – “I Would Die 4 V (Prince Cover)”
I missed CHVRCHES’ first show in my home city — had a ticket, showed up after the encore had ended — so when they came back ’round I was ready to roll. For a heavily electronic act fronted by a timid, angel-voiced Scottish girl, I never expected to see so much influence from the purple man himself. They began their set with a sample from the intro of “Let’s Go Crazy” but I still didn’t think too much of it. Until the encore, when they pulled this beast out of the woodwork and sent me home listening to Prince for the next month.
Also, can we just stop for a minute and revel in the way the song title was styled? Prince must have secretly invented the internet back in 1984.
The Postal Service – “Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now) (Phil Collins Cover)”
Oh Phil Collins. Whenever I am not listening to Phil say the word “Sussudio” you might find me singing along to his classic, “Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now).” It’s what Wikipedia might define as a power ballad. The only thing better than hearing Phil sing it is hearing that sexy beast Ben Gibbard belt it out. It’s the best indie cover of any 80’s song to date. The Postal Service wins. Game over.
Honorable Mentions: The Get Up Kids – “Close To Me”; Limp Bizkit – “Faith”; Fall Out Boy – “Love Will Tear Us Apart”
Nada Surf – “If You Leave (OMD Cover)”
The O.C. season 1 episode 21…that’s all.
Yeasayer – “Crazy (Seal Cover)”
Ok, so Seal’s “Crazy” was technically released in 1990–and didn’t reach American shores until 1991–but I play by my own rules (nobody else’s, not even my own), so all you naysayers can deal with it. Yeasayer stopped by Triple J radio back in April 2011 and recorded their own flawless ‘like a version’ cover of “Crazy.” The Brooklynites manage to capture the passion of Seal’s demi-god-like voice by stripping all the instrumentals down to their most basic acoustic core. The result was, and still is, my go-to track for a top-down Summery night drive.
Honorable Mentions: Miles Fisher – “This Must Be The Place (The Talking Heads Cover)”; Beirut – “Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen Cover)”; David Byrne – “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Whitney Houston Cover)”; POP ETC – “How Will I Know (Whitney Houston Cover)”
Frente! – “Bizarre Love Triangle (New Order Cover)”
So let’s talk about New Order and my undying love for anything and everything they’ve ever done. If I had to answer the all too often asked question of “….so what’s your favorite band?” it would be New Order. Their 1986 single “Bizarre Love Triangle” also happens to be one of my top songs of all time and Rolling Stone agrees (not that it necessarily matters but it does). The magazine named the track one of its “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” and for damn good reason.
BLT (Bizarre Love Triangle or Bacon Lettuce and Tomatoes if you so desire) is a delicious slice of 80s emotive baroque pop that’s romance in four minutes and twenty-four seconds. So now about that cover. In 1994 Australians Frente! did a stripped down acoustic version of Bizarre Love Triangle, which really exposes the fragility of the song’s lyrics. No it’s not the original but this comes pretty close to the real thing.
Honorable Mentions: Lykke Li – Silver Springs (this is a 70s cover) & Purity Ring – Grammy (this is a 00s cover)
Stretch Armstrong – “Melt With You (Modern English Cover)”
A good cover is a song that takes the original and completely, fundamentally changes the sound of the track to fit the covering band’s aesthetic creating something totally new in the process. Moving from 80s pop to punk rock is a pretty big leap, but it’s one that Stretch Armstrong makes flawlessly. The resulting track is one that is still recognizable as both the Modern English classic, and as a typical Stretch Armstrong work of fast drums, fuzzy guitars and raucous scream. The band took the source material and fit it in seamlessly with their own style. And the end product is perfect.
Honorable Mentions: Goldfinger – “99 Red Balloons”; Rufio – “Like A Prayer”; The Getup Kids – “Close To Me”
The Bird and the Bee – “Kiss On My List (Hall and Oates Cover)”
My entry in this edition of THE ONE is dedicated to twee synth pop duo The Bird and the Bee’s outstanding covers album “Interpreting the Masters Volume 1: A Tribute to Hall and Oates.” This particular little number gets the official nod for a few reasons. For one thing, it stays damn true to the original (which is a masterpiece, people, and if it ain’t broke don’t fix it). Where it does diverge from the 80s classic, it succeeds in spades: Singer Inara George’s breathy alto brings a coy nuance to the lyrics, and when that synth solo hits after the second chorus, it gets tough to argue that this version doesn’t improve on the original. Just to clarify, I’m not asking you to lose your loving feeling for the OG H&O. But throwing this song on a romantic playlist for the rich girl or man-eater in your life? I can go for that…yes, can do.
Honorable Mentions: Nouvelle Vague – “Love Will Tear Us Apart”; Stars – “This Charming Man”; Goldfinger – “99 Red Balloons”
The Flaming Lips – “Borderline (Madonna Cover)”
Given The Flaming Lips’ reputation as a bit… overblown, it’s surprising that their take on Madonna’s seminal “Borderline” begins in earnest. It’s almost as if the guys are a little intimidated to take on such a ubiquitous hit. For the first half of the song, singer Wayne Coyne delivers uncharacteristically solid vocals as he coos over a sparse electronic beat seems to pay homage to another 80s classic – Phil Collins’s “In the Air Tonight.” All of which should amount to a cute, understated send up to the Queen of Pop.
But then oh wait is he going to smash on that gong repeatedly of course he is it’s the Flaming Lips! Suddenly, two drum kits! Big dirty synth lines! Cymbal crashes galore! And a huge soaring guitar riff over a momentous instrumental that amounts to one of the greater sonic freak-outs, cover or otherwise. The Lips have always been a sort of musical Prozac; leave it to them to take Madge’s romance-induced spiral into depression and turn it into an epically joyous anthem.
Honorable Mentions: Marilyn Manson – “Tainted Love” (Soft Cell cover); Orgy – “Blue Monday” (New Order cover); Limp Bizkit – “Faith” (George Michael cover; Weird Al Yankovic – “Eat It” (Michael Jackson cover)
ANDREW (NEON GOLD) @andrewhuuang
Kimbra – “Head Over Heels (Tears For Fears cover)”
Most of you will know Kimbra as the celebrity couple name of “actress” Kim Kardashian and Z-list actor Brad Pitt. Fortunately, this is about the lesser known Kimbra who still hardly gets credit for being more than just Gotye’s Catwoman outside of Australia. Well in an unexpected twist of fate, she did one of those inventive mash-up covers for Triple J, taking on Grizzly Bear’s “Two Weeks” and Tears for Fears classic “Head Over Heels” at the same damn time, and it’s more of a game-changer than a Super Nintendo. Not enough for you? Ok, fine. In this crushing rendition, Kimbra sounds like an ’80s dream on fire and looks like if Zooey Deschanel and Miranda July hugged each other so tight that a nuclear fusion created the big bang of baby kitten memes. What, you asked for it.
Honorable Mentions: Wildcat! Wildcat! – “Everybody Wants To Rule the World”; Citizens! – “The Best”; Puff Daddy – “I’ll Be Missing You”